July Foodie Penpal Reveal Day!

I have been drowning in job applications for the past month. I never dreamed that finding a teaching job would be so time-consuming and overwhelming. I’ve applied to positions in Chicago and a few of the surrounding suburbs, but I have also been searching and applying for some non-teaching positions as a backup. I literally have not left my computer in almost 3 weeks! It’s rough, but I keep telling myself that one way or the other it will all be over soon and I will be back to work full-time.

In the meantime, I managed to participate in another round of Foodie Penpals! This month I was paired with Lucie from Georgia. Lucie was super on top of things. The deadline to mail packages is the 15th of the month and my package arrived on the 11th! She even included a description of each product along with the history behind it.

July Foodie Penpals

Honey coated pecans

I requested that the items be gluten-free and peanut-free, which meant that I could not receive any of Georgia’s famous peanuts. Lucie included some amazing honey coated pecans. Between my husband and I, these lasted approximately 15 seconds.

July Foodie Penpals

Pork rinds!

This was another winner with my husband. I think he is beginning to become more excited for my Foodie Penpal packages to arrive than I am. These had a very smokey flavor, which I liked a lot. Then, I saw this recipe from Paleo Girl’s Kitchen where she used pork rinds to bread chicken and my mind was totally blown. I am definitely going to have to give that one a test drive.

July Foodie Penpals

Southern condiment trio

I can’t comment personally about the above three items because I haven’t had a chance to try them yet. I am simply DYING to try the Georgia Peach Grilling Sauce, but the weather for the past few weeks has not been grill-friendly. We’ve had a lot of rain and even a few days in the 60’s. The 60’s?! In July? I don’t understand the Midwest. I plan on using it to cook up some chicken, but I am sure it would also be very tasty on shrimp or scallops.

I’d never heard of Mayhaw jelly before and it apparently gets it’s name because “May” is the month in which the “Haw”thorne berries are harvested. The description from Lucie’s note said that it Mayhaw’s are part of the apple family and that Mayhaw jelly has been toted as “the best jelly in the world.” I think I am going to save it for the fall because it sounds like something that would really perk up my taste buds when I am missing summer.

I plan on breaking into that jar of Hot Chow Chow this week. This is also something I had never heard of and when I Googled what to eat it with I realized that the possibilities are endless. Some of the things that I found were as an accompaniment to BBQ pork, mixed in with tuna, as a relish for shrimp tacos, and a topping on an omlete. I LOVE mixing salsas into my scrambled eggs so this is perfect!

To see what I sent to my Foodie Penpal, hop on over to Sharde’s page at http://shoedooo.com/.

Wanna be a Foodie Penpal? Find out how! Click the stamp to sign up!

The Lean Green Bean

Past Foodie Penpal Reveals:

Here’s a detailed explanation of the program:

– On the 5th of the month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

– You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!

– The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!

– You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

– Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you can choose to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

– Foodie Penpals is open to US, Canadian residents & UK residents.  Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at rocksalt@thisisrocksalt.com to get involved!

My Paleo Food Diary

Hi Friends!

I’ve been MIA on this blog for the last two weeks because I have been (unsuccessfully) recipe testing. I think one of the common misconceptions about Lifestyle blogs is that everything we post turns out perfectly the first time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Since the inception of this blog, I’ve probably have more kitchen flops than successes, and I’ve had plenty of crafts turn out looking like they were done by a preschooler rather than a full-grown adult.

Let me preface this by saying that we ate a lot of take-out this week. I managed to put together an example food diary from the recipes that turned out palatable. Nothing was mind-blowing, except for the arracherra, but that’s because it’s one of my “go-to” recipes that I knew would not disappoint. I can only take experimentation for so long!

Breakfast – Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage Link from Trader Joe’s (not pictured) and “Green” Smoothie
To make the smoothie, I juiced 2 carrots, 1 cucumber, 1 lemon, a handful of parsley, and a 1-inch piece of ginger. I added that to a blender with 3 stalks of kale, 1 tablespoon of flax seed, and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. The result was OK. The texture wasn’t a little too grainy (if only I had a VitaMix!) and it needed something in the taste department. Next time around, I’ll probably juice all the veggies and blend in a banana or some strawberries for some added sweetness.

Paleo Food Diary Breakfast - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

This Green Juice Boost (of Energy!) is so much better!

Lunch – Cucumber & Lox
This was my Paleo rendition of the classic bagel and lox sandwich. Since cream cheese is not Paleo, I omitted that. The result wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely missing something. I need to whip up a dressing or a sauce to accompany this because it wasn’t my favorite dish in the world.

Paleo Food Diary Lunch - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

A take on bagels and lox without the cream cheese.

Snack – Apples with Sunbutter
I discovered Sunbutter as an alternative to nut butters and I can’t get enough. The classroom I was student teaching in was a peanut and nut free classroom and I wasn’t allowed to bring my almond and cashew butters to school. I think I actually like this better than almond butter! If you do not have any apples lying around, this is just as tasty right off the back of a spoon. 🙂

Paleo Food Diary Snack - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Better than peanut butter!

Dinner – Arrachera (Skirt Steak) with Cauli Rice and Grilled Green Onions
If you have not coated a green onion in olive oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and popped it on the grill, you are missing out on life. Green onions are mild to begin with, but when you grill them they become very sweet and tender. They are the perfect accompaniment to arrachera. I love arrachera because it is inexpensive and cooks up quickly. If you do not have outdoor grill space, you can cook it on the stove top very easily. Because it is thinly sliced, it takes about 3 minutes per side for a well-done piece of steak. I marinated the arrachera for 8 hours in olive oil, red wine vinegar, onion, garlic, and adobo. While my husband was manning the grill, I made fresh pico de gallo and guacamole (not pictured).

Paleo Food Diary Dinner - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Did you know you can regrow green onions? True story.

This dinner was by far the best thing I have cooked up in the last two weeks! Hopefully, I will fare better this week. Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Za’atar Scented Carrot Fries

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you have undoubtedly heard me rave about the Foodie Penpals program I participate in each month. Well, I found a Paleo version hosted by Tarah over at What I Gather and Brittanie over at Three Diets One Dinner. How perfect! Paleo Penpals is very similar to Foodie Penpals. Each month you are paired with another participant and you exchange Paleo-friendly items with them. Then, you create a recipe using the items you received from your pen pal. Tarah and Brittanie will put together a roundup post with all of the recipes that were submitted and post it on their blogs at the end of each month. I thought this would be a really great way to expand my Paleo pantry and get some inspiration for new recipes.

This month I was paired with Amanda from Kentucky. She sent me two different spice mixes; one was her own “super secret” pork rub and the other was a spice mix called za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix that is a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac and it used on pretty much everything in the Middle East. It can be used to season root veggies or you can add it to olive oil to make a dip for bread. Some people eat it straight from the jar.

Sumac has a slight citrus taste so my original thought was to make za’atar spiked marinara sauce; however, after adding nearly three tablespoons of it to the pot and finding it didn’t have the punch I was looking for, I gave up that idea. I’ve seen pictures of carrot “fries” floating around various Paleo blogs and decided to give that a try. Success!

Carrot fries are awesome! They have a consistency that is similar to sweet potato fries. The sweetness of the carrots and coconut oil pairs nicely with the tartness of the sumac. You can purchase za’atar online or you can make your own from scratch. If you can’t get your hands on any, you can substitute the za’atar in the recipe below for your favorite all-purpose spice blend or season with plain old salt and pepper.

By the way, have I showed you my method for melting coconut oil?

How to Melt Coconut Oil | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

We don’t own a microwave so I had to get creative!

Yup. That’s my bathroom. That’s my hairdryer. Laugh all you want, but it works like a charm! 🙂

Za'atar Scented Carrot "Fries" | Via Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Served alongside homemade mayo

*NOTE: This recipe makes a single serving of carrot “fries.”

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon za’atar

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 425˚.
  2. Peel and chop carrots into quarters. You want them to be roughly the same size and thickness.
  3. In a bowl, toss carrots in melted coconut oil for a few minutes to make sure they are well coated.
  4. Add za’atar to the bowl and toss the carrots for another few minutes making sure to distribute the spice evenly.
  5. Spread the carrots onto a baking sheet lined with foil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes. Watch these as they have a tendency to burn quickly! It may take a few more minutes or a few less depending on how thick you cut your “fries.”
  6. Remove from the oven and let sit on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before serving.

My Paleo Food Diary

Last week’s Paleo Food Diary was wildly successful; it got the most hits of any post I’ve ever written! I am so glad that people are interested in the world of Paleo, and I hope that these food logs will give folks a little insight into how delicious Paleo eating can be. We made a trip to Costco last week, and I bought 36 eggs. I promise I will post a non-egg breakfast next week or the week after when we make our way through our current stash.

Breakfast – Scrambled Eggs with Green Pepper, Onion, Mushroom, Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil Chicken Sausage, and Strawberries
This week I cooked up some green peppers, mushrooms, and onions and mixed them in with scrambled eggs. I cut up some strawberries and cooked up a sun-dried tomato and basil chicken sausage link that I bought at Trader Joe’s. I also had a cup of coffee with coconut milk.

Cucina Kristina | Breakfast | cucinakristina.com

Cooks up quickly

Lunch – Leftover Chicken Fajitas, Guacamole, and Pico de Gallo
Fajitas are a staple dinner in our house. We eat them almost every week and I always make sure we have enough for leftovers. I ate them just like this with a fork, but you could also have these leftovers in the form of a salad or use iceberg lettuce leaves in place of tortillas. My recipe for pico de gallo and guacamole can be found here. This was so good, I had two helpings!

Paleo Food Diary Lunch - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Fajitas are a staple in our home

Snack – Spicy Power Bars
I wasn’t super hungry between meals this week, but I had power bars leftover from last week and snacked on those when I got hungry. The power bar recipe is from Elana’s Pantry and it is delicious.

Spicy Power Bars | Recipe courtesy of Elana's Pantry @ elanaspantry.com | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

This recipe makes 10-12 bars

Dinner – Open Faced Burger with Cauli Rice and Roasted Radishes
I used a head of cauliflower to make cauli rice last week and had a ton leftover. I know I promised the recipe, but I had so much leftover I didn’t need to make any more. I didn’t realize a head of cauliflower made as much rice as it did! Next time I make this, I will take pictures and post the recipe immediately. I promise. 🙂 Luckily cauli rice holds up well in the fridge and reheats easily. My husband wanted burgers for dinner so I served him a traditional burger and ate mine sans bun. I seasoned the meat with the Sazón seasoning my Foodie Pen Pal Paul sent me. Phew! Say that three times fast!

Paleo Food Diary Dinner - Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

There’s lettuce, tomato, and pickles under the patty

 There you have it! Another glimpse into a typical meal day of Paleo eating. I am trying to cut back on my overall sugar intake so I avoided dessert this week. The sugar industry is sneaky and it makes me so angry! Did you know that the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar each year? Let that sink in for a minute… 130 POUNDS of something with absolutely no nutritional value. Even if you do not drink soda or eat sweets, your sugar intake is probably higher than you think. Once I started reading labels more closely, I was astounded at the amount of sugar in pre-packaged foods! Steve over at Nerd Fitness just wrote a fantastic article all about sugar. Go read it and get angry. Then, shake your fist defiantly at the sugar industry and refuse to let them continue interfering with your health! End rant.

Five Senses Friday – June 14

Five Senses Friday | cucinakristina.com | Join the fun! #5sensesfri

Sight – I watched a documentary this week called Nursery University which is about the competitive admission process to New York City pre-schools. Pre-school! I can’t imagine paying $20,000 a year in tuition to send my kid to pre-school, but apparently it is rather normal in Manhattan. My undergraduate college education wasn’t that expensive! Insanity!

Hear – My super awesome Zumba teacher taught her last class at my college gym this week. She was a BIG source of inspiration for me over the last two years. Before I left my full-time job, I was in a total funk and working out very inconsistently. I couldn’t find the motivation most days to hit the gym after my long commute to and from work. I had heard a lot about Zumba but, not being a dancer, was always intimidated to try it out. I walked into her Zumba class on a whim figuring I could leave if I didn’t like it. I got totally hooked and started rearranging my schedule to fit her classes into my workout routine. I am sad to see her leave! If I ever find myself in a Latin dance club, watch out because I have some moves up my sleeve!

zumba class pic | cucinakristina.com

An “after” pic of our class. Julia is to the right of the two guys holding the card!

Feel – I did my first chin-up this week! I feel extremely proud of myself. Weight lifting has been tough at times. It can be intimidating to lift next to all the bulky men in the weight room, but I am getting stronger everyday and it is good motivation to keep going. In the picture below, I was doing single arm rows with 30 pound weights and alternating between sets of 12 reps and sets of cross leg push ups. It’s harder than it sounds!

cucinakristina.com

Strong is the new skinny

Smell – I made rose water this week using rose petals from our backyard. The smell as it’s cooking is so wonderful. It’s as if you are sitting in the middle of a rose garden in the country.

Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Rose petals. By the way, there’s no filter or Photoshop here!

Taste – Rick Bayless has a new line of sauces and marinades out on the market. My husband has been asking me to make enchiladas for about two weeks and I finally caved. I decided to take the lazy route and use a pre-packaged sauce and the result was really tasty! You can find the recipe for them here. My husband gobbled them up and told me that he would be happy eating these every week for the rest of our marriage. That’s a pretty bold statement coming from him as he gets bored with food very quickly and rarely eats leftovers!

My Paleo Food Diary

People are always shocked when they find out I do not eat grains, dairy, or refined carbohydrates. It’s as if they think the only thing left on Earth to consume is air! Paleo eating is a lot more abundant and delicious than people think. I swear! To prove it, I thought I would put together a photo diary showing what I eat in a typical day.

First, let me dispel the misconception that I eat zero carbs. While I am avoiding simple carbs (bread, pasta, bagels, muffins, etc.), I load up on complex, nutrient-dense carbs (leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fruits, etc.). We traditionally only think of carbs in the simple form and while my carbohydrate intake has certainly lowered over the last 6 months, it is far from zero.

Breakfast – Fried Eggs over a Warm Asparagus, Mushroom, and Arugula Salad
I took a handful of arugula and tossed it in olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then, I topped it with mushrooms, shallots, and asparagus that I sautéed in olive oil. Next, I added 2 fried eggs, a sprinkle of paprika, and served it alongside some avocado slices. Before breaking the yolk and letting it ooze all over my plate, I did a little jig because I was super amped to have this plate of awesomeness in front of me. I also enjoyed a hot cup o’ joe with coconut milk.

Cucina Kristina's Paleo Food Diary - Breakfast: Fried eggs over a warm mushroom, asparagus, and arugula salad.

I’ll probably eat this everyday all summer!

Lunch – Mason Jar Salad
For the last 6 months, I have eaten a mason jar salad everyday for lunch. I prep them on Sunday and enjoy them all week. There are so many ways you can change up a salad, I never get bored with them. I dress my salads with extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice, lime juice, or red wine vinegar because I am boring when it comes to salad dressings; however, you can use any dressing you like. I also always add a source of protein like hard-boiled eggs, chicken, or tuna and an additional fat source like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or nuts.

Mason Jar Salads. Stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge. Layer hardier ingredients on the bottom and more delicate items on top. Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Eat your veggies 🙂

Snack – Spicy Power Bars
I rarely get hungry between meals. I know! It is hard for me to believe sometimes since I spent a good part of my life calorie restricting and feeling hungry ALL. THE. TIME. If I feel hungry during the day, I snack on homemade power bars, a handful of nuts (pistachio are my favorite!), or beef jerky. I am usually hungrier on days after I workout and less hungry on my rest days. This power bar recipe is from Elana’s Pantry and it is delicious.

Spicy Power Bars | Recipe courtesy of Elana's Pantry @ elanaspantry.com | Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

This recipe makes 10-12 bars

Dinner – Beef and Broccoli over Cauli Rice
For dinner I made beef and broccoli over a bed of cauli rice. Yes, that white stuff below is cauliflower, not rice. This dish comes together quickly and everything can be prepped ahead of time. Bonus! The recipe for the beef and the cauli rice are coming next week!

Beef and broccoli over cauli rice

Not white rice? Coulda fooled me!

Dessert – Strawberry Hibiscus Popsicle
If you do not have a set of popsicle molds, you can use ice cube trays, Dixie cups, or muffin tins. This week, I made or Strawberry Hibiscus Popsicles. These popsicles are dairy-free, gluten-free, Paleo, and have no added refined sugar. The ingredients are Hibiscus tea, strawberries, banana, and honey. They are simple, refreshing, and delicious! You can find the recipe here.

Cucina Kristina | Strawberry Hibiscus Popsicle | cucinakristina.com

No added refined sugars!

There you have it! That is a pretty typical day for me. If you prep these meals beforehand, the active cooking time for each of them is less than 15 minutes. I had a lot of fun putting this together. Do I have a new blog series on my hands? Possibly! 🙂

Five Senses Friday – June 7

5senses

Sight – I stumbled upon this adorable animation film last night and have watched it no less than 10 times. It’s so silly and makes me laugh!

“Two Chips” / An Animated Short from Adam Patch on Vimeo.

Hear – Believe it or not, I discovered this woman’s voice when I was shopping in Crate and Barrel. The overhead music they play isn’t always terrible! Her voice is seductive and she is gorgeous; it makes me sad that I don’t live in Ireland and have the ability to see this woman perform live.

Feel – I submitted my final teaching portfolio on Wednesday (yay!) and am breathing a huge sigh of relief because school is OVER. Never in a million years did I ever imagine that graduate school would be as time-consuming as it was. I feel as though I have been completely MIA since I enrolled in my teaching program; I hope my friends remember my face! 🙂 I am looking forward to enjoying the summer. Now, if only the weather would cooperate!

Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

55˚ what? IT’S JUNE!

Smell – Our peonies are blooming! We picked a few and brought them inside. They have been livening up our kitchen all week. I wish they lasted longer! Because they are so delicate, I stood them upright in an empty pasta sauce jar while I looked for a vase. I ended up thinking they looked really cute in the empty sauce jar, especially in the kitchen, so I kept them in there all week.

Use an empty sauce jar as a vase! Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Peonies

Taste – The two giant rose bushes we have in the yard are also in bloom. They were totally barren up until a few days ago. I intended to make rose water last summer and never got around to it. That is on my definitely to-do list this year! Rose water has many beauty benefits, but something about rose water cocktails and rose water ice cream is intriguing to me. I love, love, LOVE floral teas and am looking forward to experimenting with homemade rose water.

Cucina Kristina | cucinakristina.com

Roses